All four major announced candidates in this year’s governor race met for a lunchtime forum hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business in Baton Rouge. Here are a few quick takeaways:
1) U.S. Sen. David Vitter distributed a typically pointed statement bashing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to repeal the refundable portion of the inventory tax credit — an idea that would “represent a huge tax increase” on businesses that would still have to pay local parishes, Vitter argued. In print, he called it a “horrible” idea, and from the dais he labeled it just plain “crazy.” Vitter instead proposed repealing the entire inventory tax and replacing it with “another revenue stream from the state to local government.” So where would the money come from instead? Vitter skipped that part. Update: Vitter calls Jindal tax plan “crazy.” Jindal compares Vitter to Obama.
(Jindal, it turns out, wasn’t about to let Vitter’s verbal slap go unanswered. His office put out a statement accusing the conservative senator of talking like — gasp — a Democrat. “Senator Vitter’s suggestion that he wants to consider repealing non refundable tax credits as part of ‘analysis on all credits, exemptions and deductions’ is concerning. After eight years of tax cuts, maybe the voters will want to pay more in taxes. Usually that is the Democrat platform, the Obama approach. Once in a while some Republicans try it,” the statement said.)
2) As at previous gatherings, Jindal and Americans for Tax Reform honcho Grover Norquist earned plenty of abuse. Jindal was taken to task for his wandering ways and his strict interpretation of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, which just about everyone agrees is limiting the Legislature’s ability to address a $1.6 billion budget hole.
But if those two are shaping up as the campaign’s main villains, LSU economist Jim Richardson is another story. Richardson and a team of economists recently released a report recommending lower top tax rates and a hard look at tax exemptions, among other ideas. Several candidates said they expected to support many of his recommendations.
3) Most predictable Q&A: The three Republicans — Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle — all sided with NFIB and opposed a higher minimum wage. Vitter and Angelle talked of creating jobs that pay well without government mandates, and Dardenne claimed that raising the minimum wage would hurt teenagers looking for their first jobs. State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the race’s only Democrat, endorsed a higher federal minimum wage.
4) Memorable lines: Angelle, in calling for reform of the process to create the fiscal notes that estimate the cost of proposed legislation, said that many a note is “like a weather report. It’s always wrong.” Dardenne, noting that people often ask him why he wants to be governor given the state of the state, said, “I’m an optimist by nature.” Edwards, riffing on Angelle’s observation that the building’s on fire, symbolically speaking, responded that he didn’t spend the last several years “helping Bobby Jindal light the match.” Angelle, of course, is a former top Jindal aide.
5) Blast from the past: The forum was moderated by Angele Davis, who was Jindal’s first commissioner of administration, and is now the president and CEO of the Davis Kelley Group. I’m guessing life is a lot less stressful on the outside.
--- Stephanie Grace’s political column appears in The Advocate on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. She also blogs at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes, and she’s on Twitter @stephgrace.